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To accompany our Johnny Marr interview and player profile, Jamie Humphries gets all indie and offers a brief insight into some of the classic rhythm guitar and riffing techniques of the Manchester guitar legend…
With the Smiths, Johnny Marr crafted some of the most beautiful and haunting guitar parts in '80s pop/rock history. From the jangling chords of 'This Charming Man' to the dark and sinister tremolo driven riffs of 'How Soon is Now?', Marr helped re-launch the electric guitar, in a time of synth-driven pop, inspired a generation, and defined the Manchester genre.
Like Johnny’s heroes before him, he stood true to his beliefs and love and passion of the guitar, with no thoughts or concerns for fame and money, just a passion and drive to be creative. In this short stylistic tech session, I have put together a short Smiths inspired track that looks at some of Johnny’s favourite and most famous ideas. Obviously there is a lot more to Johnny than these ideas presented, just listen to his 'textural loops' performed on the Hans Zimmer Orchestral/electronic score for the Hollywood sci-fi thriller 'Inception'. You will hear a different side to Johnny’s playing - using the guitar to create more soundscape ideas. But for this lesson we have looked at his chord and riff driven Indie Pop style
For our verse progression or A section I have chosen to look at the jangly very 'Manchester sounding' approach to Johnny’s playing. The chord progression is based around the chords of A major, C# minor, B minor, D and E major.
This is the basic outline of the progression, because, when it comes to the actual chords, Johnny will extend them to create more interesting chord harmony and also as a way of joining the chords, and creating repeating melodic hooks through out a chord progression, which is a trademark of Johnny’s style and sound.
The opening chord of A major is extended to an Add9 chord, as the B note added in the top of the chords is then added in the top of the C# minor chord to produced a C# minor 7th chord. We then keep this idea and extend our B minor chord to a B minor 7th. For the second half of the verse we shift up to some higher register chords, and play a chord arpeggio figure that is based around the same progression but using different voicings of the chords. Once again we see the idea of adding extension to the chords to act as links between them, but more importantly to provide melodic hooks within the progression.
This time over the E major chord we have a shifting diatonic 3rd idea that is performed on the 3rd and 2nd strings - very Steve Cropper! For the verse section I have used a bright clean sound on our studio amp, and although I am using my main humbucker loaded Musicman, I have switched to a single coil tone to give me a bright Tele/Jag tone.
Now for our chorus, and I couldn’t pay homage to Johnny Marr with out including that fabled tremolo driven tone! For this, I have switched to a very light overdriven tone, with the gain hardly on.
I am using a tremolo tone from an old Line 6 Modulation Pro rack unit, which actually allows me to input the tempo of the track to make sure that I get the tremolo in time. For the rhythm of the chord progression I simply emulated one of Johnny’s hero’s, Bo Diddley, and made sure that the rhythm of the tremolo was set in time. Once again check out the video for a more in depth analysis of this tone.
We then head back to our verse progression one final time to conclude our track. I should also point out that the feel of this track isn’t straight, and it makes use of a swung 16th note rhythm, so pay attention to this when working on the groove of both of the sections.